Romsey Abbey

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Romsey Abbey is a parish church in the Church of England located in Romsey, a market town in Hampshire, England.

Contents

Background

It was originally built during the 10th century, as a Benedictine foundation. The surviving church is the town's outstanding feature and this is all the more remarkable because the abbey, as a nunnery, would have been less well financially endowed than other religious establishments of the time.

History

The religious community was originally established at "Rum's Eg", strictly "the area of Rum surrounded by marshes" in 907 AD by nuns led by Elflaeda daughter of King Edward The Elder, who was son of King Alfred The Great. Later, King Edgar refounded the nunnery, in circa 960 AD, as a Benedictine house under the rule of St. Ethelflaeda who was sanctified for such acts as the chanting of psalms late at night, whilst standing naked in the freezing water of the nearby River Test.

The religious community continued to grow and a village grew around it to keep it supplied with produce. Both suffered in 993 AD when Viking raiders sacked the village and burnt down the original church. However, the abbey was rebuilt in stone in circa 1000 AD and the village quickly recovered. The abbey and its religious community flourished and were renowned as a seat of learning - especially for the children of the nobility.

In Norman times a substantial, new stone abbey, primarily designed as a convent, was built on the old Anglo-Saxon foundation (circa 1130 to 1140 AD) by Henry Blois, Bishop of Winchester and Abbot of Glastonbury. Bishop Henry was the younger brother of King Stephen and his structure dominates the town to this day. By 1240 AD in excess of 100 nuns were living in the community.

The abbey continued to grow and prosper until the Black Death, struck the town in 1348-9. Whilst it is thought that as much as half of the population of the town - which was then about 1,000 - died as a result the number of nuns fell by over 80% to 19. This so affected the area that the overall prosperity of the abbey dwindled and it was finally suppressed by Henry VIII during the Dissolution of the Monasteries in 1539.

However the abbey did not suffer the fate of many other religious establishments at this time and was not demolished, although the community itself was forcibly dispersed. This was because it had, in modern terms, become "dual use". in the sense that it contained a church within a church - a substantial section being dedicated to St Lawrence and used solely by the townspeople.

Subsequently, the town purchased the abbey from the Crown for £100 in 1544 and, somewhat ironically, then set about demolishing that very section, set aside as the church of St Lawrence, that had ensured its survival in the first place.

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